Monumental Armenian map digitized

A monumental map of Armenia in the University Library of Bologna has been digitized with gigapixel photo stitching technology that allows viewer to explore the image in ultra-high definition.

The Tabula Chorographica Armenica was commissioned by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, a Bolognese nobleman, diplomat, soldier, world traveler, naturalist, author and all-around polymath whose unquenchable thirst for knowledge drove him to amass an enormous collection of manuscripts that is now at the University of Bologna. (Fun fact: The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and is the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Its motto, “Alma Mater Studiorum” meaning “nuturing mother of studies,” is the origin of the term “alma mater” for the school you attended.)

Born in 1658, Marsili was privately educated and attended lectures in medicine, mathematics and botany at the renowned university. In 1680, his endless curiosity drove him to join a diplomatic mission to Constantinople where he spent his free time studying the seas. He invented new devices in order to study the coastline, currents, marine animals, water salinity and winds. He published these observations in his first book in 1681.

That same year, he joined the army of the Holy Roman Empire solely for the opportunity it afforded him to travel throughout Eastern Europe. When he was captured by the Ottoman Empire, he was made to distribute coffee to its soldiers besieging Vienna in 1683. So naturally he turned that experience into a treatise on coffee and its supposed medicinal effects.

He was sent to Constantinople again in 1691. His mission was to test the waters (not literally this time) for a peace treaty between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. He spent a year there. The negotiations went nowhere, but he put his unquiet mind to good use yet again by commissioning a monumental map of the Armenian church.

Armenians had been forced by Shah Abbas I of Persia to move into Persian territory in 1604 and in 1638, Persia and the Ottoman Empire divided Armenia between themselves. The Armenian Patriarchate had been established in Constantinople by express invitation of Sultan Mehmed II in 1461, so by the time of Marsili’s second stay in Constantinople, the city had been the most important center of Armenian religion, scholarship and culture for more than two centuries. Fascinated by the history of the Armenian church, its polemical debates with Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, Marsili asked Armenian scholar, scribe and illuminator Eremia Çelebi K‘ēōmiwrčean and his son Tēr Małak’ia to map it all out for him.

They crafted the large-scale map by gluing 16 sheets of paper to a canvas backing and then drawing hundreds of monasteries, churches and sanctuaries in the four catholicosates (a regional primacy headed by a single leader or catholicos) that existed in the Armenian Apostolic Church at that time. The complete map is 11 feet and nine inches long by three feet 11 inches wide.

The most significant churches are accurately drawn and everything is fully captioned. The ink drawings were painted in with watercolors. The four catholicosates are color-coded so it’s clear at a glance which churches belong to which catholicosate. Palm fronds indicate a female hermitage while olive branches indicate a male one. Among the notable illustrations are Saint Gregory the Illuminator banishing a golden idol with a censer, and a meeting between the Catholicos and the Persian governor with the Etchmiadzin Cathedral to their left and Mount Ararat to their right. Annotations include a history of the Armenian church and a recounting of the commissioning and creation of the map.

The great map left Constantinople with Marsili who would continue to be heavily involved in the fighting and diplomacy between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Wherever he went, he parlayed his assignments into new research and treatises. His one big failure — the 1703 surrender of the fortress of Breisach to the French in the War of Spanish Succession — put paid to his career with the HRE and he returned to Bologna where he co-founded the Institute of Sciences that would be closely affiliated with the University. He donated his vast collection of manuscripts to the Institute just before his death in 1730.

The map was just one entry in a very long catalogue and was not published. Its existence only became known to Armenian scholars in the late 18th century, but the lore had some of the details wrong. K‘ēōmiwrčean was said to have created it for the “Ambassador of Austria,” so the map was sought in Vienna among the enormous Hapsburg holdings. Marsili’s name had gotten lost in the game of historical telephone, and nobody thought to check in Bologna for a map commissioned by an ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire.

Then again, not even Bologna knew what a treasure it had. It fell off the radar for three hundred years, re-emerging only in 1991 when researchers found it in the University Library while preparing for an exhibition of maps. The digitization project was also engendered by an exhibition, this time of Armenian material in the University Library of Bologna. The gigapixel image will be projected onscreen during the opening of the exhibition on Friday, February 17th. Those of us without reservations for the event can skip ahead and just explore the gigantic masterpiece on our own time.

Explore the full map here. Explore it divided into five sections for ease of navigation here.

Getty acquires monumental bust of Antoninus Pius

The Getty Museum has acquired a larger-than-life-sized portrait bust of the emperor Antoninus Pius from a private collection in England. It is one of the finest surviving portraits of Antoninus Pius, but previously unpublished until it appeared at auction last year. The deal isn’t quite done yet — the museum awaits an export license from the UK Ministry of Culture — but should it go through, the bust will go on display alongside the Getty Villa’s other important Antonine-period sculptures.

A prime example of Antoninus Pius’s main portrait type, the bust was created sometime after he ascended the throne in AD 138. With minor variations, this portrait type remained the emperor’s official image throughout his reign until AD 161. Carved from a single block of fine-grained white marble, the bust shows the emperor as a mature man with distinct facial features, a full, neatly trimmed beard, and thick curly hair. He wears a tunic, a cuirass (body armor), and a fringed paludamentum (a general’s cloak) folded in half and pinned at his right shoulder.

“This exquisitely sculpted and remarkably preserved portrait ranks among the finest of more than 100 versions of Antoninus’s image that have survived from antiquity,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the Getty Museum. “The bust adds a new highlight to the series of high-quality imperial portraits at the Getty Villa, including the full-length statue of Antoninus’ wife Faustina the Elder, and the busts of Augustus, Germanicus, Caligula, and Commodus.” […]

“Many objects in our collection were made in the Antonine period, as it is known today, including portraits, mythological sculptures, sarcophagi, and numerous other works,” says Jens Daehner, associate curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum. “The bust of Antoninus provides a firmly dated visual reference for what characterized Roman aesthetics during that period. On display in our galleries, the bust will convey to visitors how, for example, Antonine sculptors carved drapery folds, used drills to give texture to hair, or incised the eyes of their sitters.”

Believed to have been discovered in Pozzuoli in the 19th century, the bust is first documented in 1851 when it was bought by Robert Martin Berkeley (1823-1897) and his bride Lady Mary Catherine Berkeley (1829-1924) on their honeymoon. Berkeley’s honeymoon diary records buying the bust on June 11, 1851, from antiques shop of dealer Raffaello Barone on Via Costantinopoli in Naples’ historic center. He paid 240 ducats (about $5400 today, adjusted for inflation). The newlyweds brought it home to Spetchley Park in Worcestershire where it has remained all these years until the descendants sold it last December.

This bust has many features in common with a bust in the collection of Castle Howard in Yorkshire. The carving of the draping, fibula and fringe of the paludamentum is so similar in both busts that it is probably they were produced by the same workshop.

Antoninus Pius (b. 86 – d. 161 A.D.) was the adopted son and successor of Hadrian (b. 76 –  d. 138 A.D.) and the uncle, father-in-law and adoptive father of Marcus Aurelius (b. 121 –  d. 180 A.D.). Marcus Aurelius wrote an extraordinary tribute to Pius in the Meditations. In the First Notebook, Marcus lists the things he learned from people who were formative influences in his development as a philosopher, emperor and man of virtue. The entry on his father is the only description of an emperor written by another emperor who knew him as family, friend and mentor and it was never intended for publication. Marcus’ notebooks were journals, not letters, not inscriptions, not future memoirs, so what Marcus writes about Pius is a deeply personal assessment of his father’s many strengths and virtues. For Marcus, Pius was the Stoic ideal as man and emperor.

XIII. In my father, I observed his meekness; his constancy without wavering in those things, which after a due examination and deliberation, he had determined. How free from all vanity he carried himself in matter of honour and dignity, (as they are esteemed:) his laboriousness and assiduity, his readiness to hear any man, that had aught to say tending to any common good: how generally and impartially he would give every man his due; his skill and knowledge, when rigour or extremity, or when remissness or moderation was in season; how he did abstain from all unchaste love of youths; his moderate condescending to other men’s occasions as an ordinary man, neither absolutely requiring of his friends, that they should wait upon him at his ordinary meals, nor that they should of necessity accompany him in his journeys; and that whensoever any business upon some necessary occasions was to be put off and omitted before it could be ended, he was ever found when he went about it again, the same man that he was before.

His accurate examination of things in consultations, and patient hearing of others. He would not hastily give over the search of the matter, as one easy to be satisfied with sudden notions and apprehensions. His care to preserve his friends; how neither at any time he would carry himself towards them with disdainful neglect, and grow weary of them; nor yet at any time be madly fond of them. His contented mind in all things, his cheerful countenance, his care to foresee things afar off, and to take order for the least, without any noise or clamour.

Moreover how all acclamations and flattery were repressed by him: how carefully he observed all things necessary to the government, and kept an account of the common expenses, and how patiently he did abide that he was reprehended by some for this his strict and rigid kind of dealing. How he was neither a superstitious worshipper of the gods, nor an ambitious pleaser of men, or studious of popular applause; but sober in all things, and everywhere observant of that which was fitting; no affecter of novelties: in those things which conduced to his ease and convenience, (plenty whereof his fortune did afford him,) without pride and bragging, yet with all freedom and liberty: so that as he did freely enjoy them without any anxiety or affectation when they were present; so when absent, he found no want of them.

Moreover, that he was never commended by any man, as either a learned acute man, or an obsequious officious man, or a fine orator; but as a ripe mature man, a perfect sound man; one that could not endure to be flattered; able to govern both himself and others. Moreover, how much he did honour all true philosophers, without upbraiding those that were not so; his sociableness, his gracious and delightful conversation, but never unto satiety; his care of his body within bounds and measure, not as one that desired to live long, or over-studious of neatness, and elegancy; and yet not as one that did not regard it: so that through his own care and providence, he seldom needed any inward physic, or outward applications: but especially how ingeniously he would yield to any that had obtained any peculiar faculty, as either eloquence, or the knowledge of the laws, or of ancient customs, or the like; and how he concurred with them, in his best care and endeavour that every one of them might in his kind, for that wherein he excelled, be regarded and esteemed: and although he did all things carefully after the ancient customs of his forefathers, yet even of this was he not desirous that men should take notice, that he did imitate ancient customs.

Again, how he was not easily moved and tossed up and down, but loved to be constant, both in the same places and businesses; and how after his great fits of headache he would return fresh and vigorous to his wonted affairs. Again, that secrets he neither had many, nor often, and such only as concerned public matters: his discretion and moderation, in exhibiting of the public sights and shows for the pleasure and pastime of the people: in public buildings, congiaries, and the like.

In all these things, having a respect unto men only as men, and to the equity of the things themselves, and not unto the glory that might follow. Never wont to use the baths at unseasonable hours; no builder; never curious, or solicitous, either about his meat, or about the workmanship, or colour of his clothes, or about anything that belonged to external beauty. In all his conversation, far from all inhumanity, all boldness, and incivility, all greediness and impetuosity; never doing anything with such earnestness, and intention, that a man could say of him, that he did sweat about it: but contrariwise, all things distinctly, as at leisure; without trouble; orderly, soundly, and agreeably.

A man might have applied that to him, which is recorded of Socrates, that he knew how to want, and to enjoy those things, in the want whereof, most men show themselves weak; and in the fruition, intemperate: but to hold out firm and constant, and to keep within the compass of true moderation and sobriety in either estate, is proper to a man, who hath a perfect and invincible soul.

Gold glass “Rome” found in subway construction

The first and only known personification of Rome in ancient gold glass has been discovered during construction of Rome’s Metro C subway line. It was found at the Porta Metronia station where military barracks were unearthed in 2016. The gold glass artifact will go on display in a new subway station museum that will include an in situ exhibition of the barracks.

The iconographic theme is already well-known, but it is the first and only representation found so far on golden glass.

“Golden glass is already a very rare finding, but this has no comparison” according to preliminary findings, Simona Morretta, archaeologist of the special superintendency of Rome, explained to ANSA. “No golden glass with the personification of the city of Rome had ever been found before”.

Gold glass was a glass-making technique in which a thin layer of decorated gold leaf, often a portrait, was sandwiched between two layers of transparent glass. The leaf was glued to one glass discs first, then the design created by scratching away tiny areas of gold like an etching. A second glass disc was then superimposed on top of the etched gold surface and fused to create the roundel of a vessel or a medallion.

The process of embedding a thin film of gold inside glass originated in Hellenistic Greece (4th-3rd century B.C.), but glassmakers of the Late Roman Empire (3rd-4th century A.D.) refined it to create veritable portrait miniatures in medallions and the roundels of ritual vessels. The portraits could be strikingly realistic, and ones produced in Alexandria are sometimes eerily close cognates to the Fayuum mummy portraits in style.

Religious imagery was a popular motif for gold glass artifacts. Examples with Greco-Roman, Christian and Jewish iconography have been found, many of them deliberately broken and the decorated base affixed to the wall next to burial niches in the catacombs of Rome. About 500 pieces of Roman gold glass have been found in catacombs, almost all of them Christian. Pagan, Christian and Jewish gold glass vessels contain traditional phrases like “vivas” (“you live”) that were common Roman expressions of good luck and libation. This suggests they were produced by the same workshops and the imagery altered to appeal to people of different faiths.

There is no inscription on the recently-discovered personification of the Eternal City. She wears an Amazonian-style dress, a helmet with a plumed crest and a diadem on the forehead. She carries a spear across her chest. The details are very finely crafted, from the curls of her hair to the scrollwork on the helmet.

As with the roundels found in the catacombs, the gold Roma was cut out of a vessel, likely when it was damaged, and kept as a precious object for display. It was not mounted on a wall of the barracks, however. The military abandoned that site in the mid-3rd century and the structure left behind was cut down and buried. The tops of the walls were demolished and the site filled with debris. The gold glass was found in this fill layer which dates it to the early 4th century.

The Porta Metronia station is scheduled to open in late 2024. It’s a great location for a museum, a short, enjoyable walk from the Via Appia along a grassy park following a well-preserved section of the Aurelian Wall. I am looking forward to the prospect of walking that stretch again someday and enjoying a unique museum instead of just being cut off by construction chaos.

Winged Victory of Brescia returns to Capitoline Temple

The ancient bronze statue of a Winged Victory that has become a symbol of the city of Brescia in Lombardy, northern Italy, has returned to its original home, the city’s 1st century Capitoline Temple. It has been installed in the eastern cell of the Capitolium in a new layout that incorporates the iconic bronze (and several of its brethren) into its monumental surroundings.

Brescia’s earliest antecedents go back to 1,200 B.C. with a settlement of the ancient Italic Ligures. In the 7th century, Celtic Cenomani crossed the Alps and made the town in the foothills their capital. Unlike neighboring tribes, the Cenomani were allies of Rome and consistently sided with them against all enemies foreign (Carthage) and domestic (the Insubres). When the Insubres and other Gallic peoples in northern Italy joined together to march on Rome in 225 B.C., the Cenomani fought with the Roman Republic and its central Italian allies against their Celtic kindred.

It maintained its allegiance in the Social Wars of the 1st century B.C. when the Italic peoples rebelled against Rome. In reward, Brescia, then known as Brixia, was given civitas (“city”) status in 89 B.C. and 50 years later, its residents were granted full Roman citizenship by Julius Caesar. To celebrate the granting of Latin Rights, a sanctuary was built on the city’s main thoroughfare. Four large rectangular halls, each with its own entrance via a pronaos (columned portico) were built and decorated with vivid frescoes and inlaid wall. The exquisite workmanship is characteristic of high-end craftsmen from central Italy. Brixia wanted only the best to show off its official acceptance into Rome’s legal and cultural fold.

The Republican shrine lasted less than a century. Brixia supported Vespasian when he vied for the throne during the Year of Four Emperors (69 A.D.), and after he was victorious he had a new temple to the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno, Minerva) constructed over the Republican shrine. The bronze Winged Victory dates to this reconstruction.

She was beloved by the people of Brixia and we know this because they removed her and concealed her for her safety, likely in the late 4th or early 5th century. Eastern Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) had taken decisive action to suppress paganism and many temples were destroyed in the process. Then came the invasions. Alaric devastated Brixia in 402. Atilla’s Huns sacked it even harder 50 years later. Somewhere in all this devastation, the people of Brixia collected its greatest bronze treasures — Winged Victory, six imperial portrait busts, at least three of them gilded, an incredible rare horse breastplate from an equestrian statue — and a pile of bronze frames, rings and fragments and stashed them in a cavity between the western wall of the temple and Cidneo Hill behind it.

The gods must have been looking out for their devotional art, because the treasure was submerged by a landslide that also covered the temple itself. The bronzes were kept safe under that landslide layer for centuries. They were rediscovered in 1826 in an excavation of the forum and Capitoline area. It was one of the largest and most significant collections of Roman bronzes ever found, and Winged Victory in particular captured the romantic imagination as a symbol of Italian patriotism in Brescia, then part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, an Austrian vassal state established at the Congress of Vienna after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

The bronzes find a permanent home in 1998 when the Santa Giulia Museum opened. In 2019, a new restoration of the Winged Victory was undertaken. Using the latest metal composition analysis, researchers discovered just how special she was. Originally experts believed the wings were added during the Vespasian era of construction to what had been a Hellenistic statue of Aphrodite, but the composition of the bronze confirmed that in fact all of the metal, wings, body and head, came from the same foundry at the same time. She was always a Winged Victory.

On Sunday the Santa Giulia Museum debuted its new Roman gallery, displaying its magnificent Roman cultural patrimony in a newly-designed, lit, accessible space that will give visitors a fresh understanding of ancient Brixia based on the latest research. The Winged Victory is now on display in the Capitolium next to the six portrait busts that were her roommates for 1500 years and with a second deposit of objects discovered in the excavation of the Capitoline Temple area.

Made of bronze using the technique of lost-wax casting and gilding only on the male ones, the portraits must have been inserted into stone or marble statues, as indicated by the careful finishing of the neck flaps. They were most likely displayed in a public space in the city and may have represented emperors or members of the imperial family. The features of the faces and hair allowed the figures to be identified with members of the Flavian dynasty and with emperors of the second and third centuries CE.

The other deposit, never shown in its entirety, includes a considerable amount of votive objects offered in the temple halls by worshippers during the life of this place of worship; these include rare engraved glass, such as the bottle with reproductions of views of cities of the Phlegraean area, jewelry, ritual objects, including the precious knife with a deer horn handle, simple and figured oil lamps, amphorae, large plates for ritual offerings, mold-decorated ceramics, and much more. […]

Other finds of particular value and interest include the bronze horse breastplate (balteo), a unique specimen throughout the empire, probably belonging to an equestrian statue displayed in one of the public spaces of ancient Brixia, on the surface of which numerous bronze figures have been applied, depicting Roman soldiers, with helmet and armor, and barbarians, with long hair, breeches and short cape, engaged in an access combat, and in the center stands out the figure of the emperor on horseback bursting among the soldiers.

“Replica” sword is authentic Bronze Age artifact

A sword in Chicago’s Field Museum long believed to be a replica has been identified as an authentic Bronze Age sword dating to between 1080 and 900 B.C. The sword was retrieved from the Danube in Budapest in the 1930s. When it was acquired by the Field Museum shortly after its discovery, the sword was part of a large consignment of artifacts that were a mixture of authentic archaeological objects and replicas. This one was misidentified when it arrived and it stayed that way for almost a hundred years.

Its true identity was rediscovered when curators were preparing for the upcoming exhibition, First Kings of Europe. This exhibition explores how communities on the Balkan Peninsula transformed from small agrarian villages to enormously wealthy kingdoms between the Neolithic and Iron Age periods (6,000-500 B.C.) and brings together more than 200 artifacts from 11 countries, many of them never seen before in the United States. Hungarian archaeologists working with Fields Museum curators on First Kings of Europe asked to see that “replica” from Hungary and recognized it immediately as the genuine article.

The group of Field Museum scientists, including a chemist, and archeologists used an X-ray fluorescence detector, an instrument that looks like a ray gun. When they compared the sword’s chemical makeup to other known Bronze Age swords in Europe, their content of bronze, copper, and tin were nearly identical.

Bill Parkinson, a curator of anthropology at the Field who helped create the upcoming First Kings of Europe exhibition, says he was surprised by the results. “Usually this story goes the other way round,” he says– “What we think is an original turns out to be a fake.”

The sword was confirmed authentic too late to be included in with the other Bronze Age objects in the exhibition, but it will be installed in the main hall of the Field Museum instead to usher visitors in to the exhibition. The First Kings of Europe opens on March 31, 2023.